President Donald Trump on Thursday accused his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen of "lying" to federal prosecutors about a proposed real estate project in Russia in order to get a reduced sentence for a new guilty plea and for a prior one.
Trump spoke to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House about an hour after Cohen entered a new guilty plea in federal court in Manhattan to lying to Congress about details of that Trump Tower project in Moscow.
Cohen admitted in that plea to misleading a committee about the extent of Trump's involvement in and knowledge of that project, which never came to fruition.
"He's a weak person and not a very smart person," Trump said of Cohen, who had served as his lawyer and fixer for years.
"Michael Cohen is lying," Trump said. "He's lying, very simply to get a reduced sentence."
A reporter asked the president: "If Cohen is such a bum, why did you hire him, have him on your payroll for 12 years and have him do so much of your dirty work?"
Trump replied: "Because a long time ago he did me a favor. A long time ago he did me a favor."
The president did not elaborate on the nature of that favor.
Cohen as part of his plea signed a cooperation agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, possible collusion by the Trump campaign, and possible obstruction of justice by the president.
The new plea is connected to Cohen's extensive statements to Congress in August 2017 about the Trump Tower deal.
Trump on Thursday suggested there was nothing wrong with his company exploring that deal, and noted that the project never moved into development. But even if it had been built, he said, "I'm allowed to do whatever I want during the campaign."
However, the charging document filed against Cohen is focused on what the lawyer told Congress about Trump's involvement in the deal, not on whether the project got off the ground.
And in July 2016, Trump, while then still a candidate for president, said, "I will tell you right now, zero, I have nothing to do with Russia, yes?" when asked specifically about his financial interest in Russia.
That statement came about a month after Cohen was still taking steps to work on the Trump Tower project in Moscow.
A court document laying out Mueller's new case against Cohen refers to Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, through the respective pseudonyms "Individual 1" and the "Company."
The special counsel in a court document said Cohen "knowingly and deliberately" lied when he told the Senate committee that the Moscow proposal "ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others" in the Trump Organization.
In fact, Cohen discussed the Moscow project with another individual as late as about June 2016, and briefed Trump on it more times than he had claimed to the Senate committee, the special counsel writes.
Cohen first pleaded guilty in August in Manhattan federal court to charges that included tax fraud, making false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations.
During his plea in August, Cohen admitted coordinating with Trump and taking direction from him in arranging for payments to two women shortly before the 2016 election.
Cohen has admitted paying $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels at Trump's behest in exchange for what the actress has said was an affair with Trump in 2006, months after first lady Melania Trump gave birth to her son with the president.
Playboy model Karen McDougal received $150,000 from the publisher of The National Enquirer, who was friendly with Trump. McDougal has said she likewise had an affair with Trump about a decade before the presidential election. The National Enquirer never ran her account of that affair before the campaign.
The White House and Trump have denied he had sex with either woman.